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Tim Sparks



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Three Russian masters of  20th century composition

With funding from the Minnesota Legacy Fund and the Lakes Region Arts Council, I've  been working on an exciting new project creating arrangements for solo guitar of various works by Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovich, three Russian masters of 20th century composition. It is my hope that these transcriptions will be of value to Classical, Jazz and Fingerstyle Guitarists.

Dance Russe, from the Ballet Petrushka, by Igor Stravinsky

Petrushka is a ballet set to music – composed in 1910–11 and revised in 1947 – by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Petrushka is the story of a Russian traditional puppet, Petrushka, who is made of straw and with a bag of sawdust as his body, but who comes to life and develops emotions.

Stravinsky composed the music for Petrushka during the winter of 1910–11 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was premièred in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 13 June 1911. The title role was danced by Vaslav Nijinsky. The work is characterized by the so-called Petrushka chord (consisting of C major and F? major triads played together), a bitonality device heralding the appearance of the main character.

The Petrushka chord combines two major triads whose roots are spaced by a tritone. For instance, a C major triad combined with an F# major triad creates the Petrushka chord. This was a revolutionary innovation for music in the early 20th century.

"Petrushka" Chord Scale for guitar

Here is a nice voicing on guitar
of the "Pretrushka" chord

Jazz musicians typically think of the Petrushka chord as an altered 7th chord, for example, C 7 with flat 9 and flat 5.

This solo guitar version was created for a project funded by the LRAC with a  MN Arts Legacy Grant.

Here is a link to a Youtube video of the solo guitar version.

Guitar (I Love Eva)  Pablo Picasso 1912

Here is a link to the solo guitar notation.

Here is a link to a PDF of Stravinsky's piano score.

In 1921, Stravinsky created a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled "Trois mouvements de Petrouchka", which the composer admitted he could not play himself for lack of adequate left hand technique.

Here is a link to a recording of the piano version by Aleck Karis.

Prelude no 8, op 34, by Dmitri Shostakovich

The Prelude no 8, op 34, by Dmitri Shostakovich, is a good representation of the “bi-tonal” language associated with these Russian innovators. This piece has many tonal shifts or “derailments”, as Shostakovich liked to call them. The fingerings are quite tricky to execute at first because  the tonal center of gravity is always changing. This is one quality which attracted me to the idea of attempting a guitar adaptation of this music in the first place. The original is in F sharp minor.  For my version, I have transposed the key to D, with the 6th string tuned to D, because this seems the best key on the guitar for this piece.

The links below connect to a copy of my guitar transcription, an audio recording of the guitar version, a YouTube video of a performance of the guitar version, the original piano score and a recording of Shostakovich playing the original composition. This is a work in progress and any comments, questions or suggestions are welcome. I will periodically update this page with new renditions.

Tab and Notation sample page

Prelude 8 audio track

Prelude 8 Piano Score
Prelude 8 Video Performance

Dimitri Shostakovich playing his Prelude No. 8, op 34 in F# minor

According to historian Debra G Andrescchio, “Shostakovich was 26 years old when he composed the Preludes Op 34. He composed one Prelude nearly every day between December 30th, 1932 and March 2nd, 1933. He commenced them just a couple of weeks after completing his opera, Lady Macbeth, only weeks after the suicide of Stalin’s wife. Shostakovich described it as a satiric, tragic opera. It exhibits signs that he was at odds with Communism in his mind as well as his heart. Shostakovich was reprimanded after Stalin saw this opera. Consideration of these political and social upheavals are paramount in understanding the underlying meaning of Shostakovich's musical texts.

Shostakovich reportedly called these Preludes a "series of psychological sketches". Therefore, when studying the Preludes, a performer is obliged to understand the psychology of his musical texts. The Preludes are miniatures - one to three pages in length. They are intimate and personal. They combine satire and tragedy and reflect Shostakovich’s musical fantasy - his inner freedom to express his response to his repressive surroundings.

One frequent technique Shostakovich used when improvising and composing, was to include sudden interruptions, reflecting the unpredictability of life under the Communist regime.

Shostakovich was referred to as a yurodivy - the Russian equivalent to the English court jester. The yurodivy had the gift to see, hear and reflect many things that some others may know but because of political fear, are unable to say. This was significant in the era of the Tzars, then inherited by Shostakovich and reflected in his own visions of reality.”

From an essay by Debra G. Andreacchio at


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